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A Good Night to Die

A Tarantino-flavored indie crime drama that offers up many of QT's weaknesses and few of his strengths, Craig Singer's A Good Night to Die (2003) is a solid example of the just-watchable-enough, made-to-do-well-at-film-festivals, Career Stepping-Stone Movie. August (Michael Rappaport) is a dim-witted thug who finds a mentor when suave hitman Ronnie (Gary Stretch) takes an inexplicable liking to him. A few years later, August is a screw-up who's hit the wrong guy, pissed off the wrong people, and Ronnie steps in to try and clean up the resulting mess. The rest of the film is a series of expletive-laced conversations between far too many characters, most of whom are played by cheap-to-pay, easily recognized actors like Ally Sheedy, Ralph Macchio, Robin Givens, Seymour Cassel, Lainie Kazan, Debbie Harry, and perpetual indie staple Frank Whaley. Singer shows off his technical abilities with lots of fancy footwork — speeding up the film, setting up artsy backlighting, fiddling with focus and wacky angles — and his direction of his characters is good. But the biggest problem is that there are simply too many characters, and the film is less a cohesive story than a series of scenes between actors, as if he'd filmed a day of loosely connected exercises in a class at the Actor's Studio. Stretch, a former Brit boxer and model, is a solid actor with amazing screen presence — if he lands better films than this one, he could become a major star. But other than watching him and marveling at the parade of familiar faces that races across the screen, there's little reason to bother with this tepid Pulp Fiction/Reservoir Dogs wannabe. Fox's DVD release reformats the film to 1.33:1 full-screen, and many of scenes suffer from the change — it's painfully obvious that they were composed for a different ratio. Otherwise, the video is very clean and crisp, with deep, rich blacks and excellent contrast. The DD 5.1 audio (in English or Spanish, with optional subtitles) is excellent, with the genuinely interesting soundtrack by Yes keyboardist Igor Khoroshev never competing with the almost-constant dialogue. Also on board is the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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